Americans spent more than $43 billion on their pets last
year. And if you ask most pet owners, they’re worth
After 20 years in the enterprise
software industry, Tami Zamrazil
decided she wanted to have a family.
Now retired, she spends her days taking care
of her husband, her house and her two babies,
2-year-old Shiva and 15-month-old Stuart Little.
“I’m a mom,” Zamrazil says. “I no longer
work. I just take care of my little girl and my
But Zamrazil’s kids aren’t children. They’re
dogs. Shiva is a 3.5-pound diva with a big
personality and a shy demeanor. Stuart Little,
meanwhile, is a half-pound larger and more
outgoing. Both Maltese, they enjoy plenty of
attention from their adoptive parents, who
regularly shop for them in search of the best
grooming brushes, shampoos and the most
stylish pet carriers. Zamrazil even prepares all
their meals with organic groceries using
recipes from Dr. W. Jean Dodds, their highprofile
“My dogs are very well taken care of,”
Zamrazil says. “I’ve taken responsibility for
these little lives, so I want them to be cared
for, healthy, happy and comfortable.”
The Prospering Pet Economy
Zamrazil isn’t alone. In fact, 63% of U.S.
households include a pet, according to the
Greenwich, Conn.-based American Pet
Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA).
That includes 74.8 million dogs and 88.3 million
cats, not to mention millions of birds,
fish, horses, rodents, reptiles and rabbits.
Like Zamrazil, many pet owners consider
themselves “pet parents,” according to APPMA
President Bob Vetere. Among them are Baby
Boomers with empty nests, as well as young
professionals who are waiting to have children,
but want companionship nonetheless.
“More and more, pets are becoming family
members,” Vetere says. “Once they take on human qualities, it’s no longer satisfying to reward them in
And there’s no shortage of rewards. Americans will spend
an estimated $43.4 billion on their pets this year, according to
APPMA data. That’s nearly double the $23 billion they spent
10 years ago.
You need only visit the APPMA’s annual Global Pet
Expo to see why. This year’s show in San Diego featured
about 800 exhibitors selling 15 football fields’ worth of merchandise,
everything from fashion and furniture to toys and
treats. It even included a special “boutique” area featuring
high-end products like custom pet jewelry, couture clothing
and spa products.
“Gucci has goat-hair stuffed beds for your dog and Cartier
has $50,000 dog collars,” Vetere points out. “Anything they
make for humans they probably make for pets, too.”
Even hotels are welcoming pets with open arms. Raffles
L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills, for instance, welcomes pets in
guests’ rooms and provides daily pet walking services, pet
beds, blankets, toys and food bowls and a special pet-friendly
room service menu.
Still, the majority of spending is on basics like grooming,
food and health care, which “children” of every species need
in order to live happy, healthy lives.
Fit and Furry
Meal choices for pets are increasingly diverse, including more
organic and gourmet ingredients. Natural Balance Eatables for
Dogs, for instance, is a brand created by actor Dick Van Patten,
who claims that the food — which is made in a USDA plant
and sold in flavors like Irish Stew and Hobo Chili — tastes just
like home-cooked meals. There are even pet bakeries across the
United States, such as Kansas City-based Three Dog Bakery, for
pet owners who want to give their loved ones a special snack.
Pet care isn’t just about food, though. It’s about fitness, health
and overall wellness, too, according to Drs. Jessica Waldman
and Amy Kramer, co-founders of Los Angeles-based California
Animal Rehabilitation, which provides rehabilitation and exercise
training for injured and out-of-shape animals. For between
$1,500 and $5,000, they enroll pets in an eight-week program
that includes popular services like pet Pilates, hydrotherapy and
acupuncture, all designed to improve pets’ physical health.
“The owners are people who get acupuncture or massages
or have personal trainers that take care of them,” Kramer says,
“and they want the same for their pets.”
Even with an emphasis on quality food, exercise and care,
pet owners’ top expenditure is a veterinarian. They’ll spend
an estimated $10.9 billion this year on vet care alone, plus an
additional $10.3 billion on over-the-counter drugs and other
According to Dennis Drent, president and CEO of Brea,
Calif.-based Veterinary Pet Insurance, it’s not unusual to
receive a veterinary claim of between $3,000 and $10,000.
Underscoring the importance of pet health, companies like
Drent’s offer pet insurance policies that cover everything
from a dog’s broken leg to a hamster’s stomach cancer to a
cat’s renal failure medication, even a pet’s dental care.
“Pets have gone from the backyard to the bedroom to the
bed,” Drent says. “People want to make sure their pets are
around for a long time.”
And Zamrazil could not agree more. For pet parents like
her, every penny spent on their loved ones — from grooming
to veterinary care — is an investment in their family’s
health, harmony and overall happiness. “The dogs are my
surrogate children,” she says. “So I want them to live a very
happy, very comfortable life.”
Because many pets are cherished family members, more
pet owners are wondering how to plan for their care in
the event of their death, according to Michael Markarian,
executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United
States. The answer, he suggests, is the creation of a pet trust.
Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia have passed
laws that specifically recognize pet trusts. Residents everywhere,
however, can still leave money and instructions for their pet’s
care in a traditional trust.
Either way, Markarian insists, it’s important to have some kind
of plan in place. “If you don’t prepare in advance, you are
leaving your pet’s life to chance,” he says. “He or she may be
abandoned without care, sent to an animal shelter or euthanized.”
In order to create a pet trust, answer the following questions
with your estate planner:
1. Who will care for my pet? Ask a trusted friend or relative
to care for your pet. Choose someone who knows your pet —
including its dietary needs, medical history, behavioral problems
and playtime preferences — and has an existing bond with it.
“It’s a good idea to have a back-up person, as well, in case the
first caretaker’s circumstances change,” Markarian says.
2. How much money should I leave? Estimate your current
annual expenditures on food, veterinary visits, pet toys and other
care, then set aside at least that amount for every year that you
expect your pet to outlive you. Consider the animal’s age and life
expectancy, keeping in mind that dogs can live for more than 10
years and cats for more than 20. “It’s always a good idea to set
aside more than expected in case your pet lives longer, or in case
your pet develops medical problems later in life that require more
expensive veterinary treatment,” he says.
3. How will my pet be cared for? You can leave behind
more than money in your pet trust. You can leave instructions
for care, too, including requirements for the pet’s exercise and
diet. To make sure that your wishes are carried out, you might
want to designate a trustee to manage the trust, separate from
the pet’s caretaker.
4. What if my pet dies? If your pet passes away, you often can
designate a charity, such as a local animal shelter, to receive the
remainder of your trust if there are unused funds available.
5. Whom should I consult? Involve your attorney, accountant,
tax advisor and financial planner in the pet trust process, as all
trusts have legal and tax implications that pet owners should
consider. Involve family members, too, and be sensitive to their
questions and concerns.
For more information on including pets in your estate plan, contact
your relationship manager or visit humanesociety.org/petsinwills.